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Proton proud as punch

Trend-setter: The Waja sedan will be the first evidence in Australia of Proton's product growth.

Proton comes out fighting in preparation for a brave new world

18 Jun 2001

MALAYSIA'S national car manufacturer Proton is renewing and expanding its vehicle range as it races to prepare for the end of domestic tariff barriers in 2005.

It is also actively pursuing a wide range of technical alliances as a cornerstone of its plan to survive as an independent niche car manufacturer beyond 2005.

Proton currently has 65 per cent of the Malaysian car market, courtesy of tariff barriers that are as high as 300 per cent. But they will be phased out as part of the ASEAN Free Trade Area agreements.

Once the tariffs disappear, Proton will have much tougher competition, notably from Ford and General Motors which both have plants in neighbouring Thailand.

Proton's worst-case scenario projects its share of the market dropping to 30 per cent of the 400,000-strong new vehicle market.

"We do not intend to be in that bottom rung," a senior Proton spokesman said.

"We will fight tooth and nail to be above that level, because how can you be 65 per cent now and give the darn thing away, you must be bloody mad.

"I'm going to fight tooth and nail to make sure I stay in business and if somebody wants to come here I am going to make it hard. This is business and I was taught business is like war, you do not take prisoners, you eat your prisoners to stay alive." The Waja sedan, which goes on sale this September, is the first evidence we will see in Australia of Proton's product growth. The Malaysian car company acclaims the 1.6-litre sedan as its first original design, as previously its range had been mostly based on Mitsubishis.

Proton's product strategy lists five platform development groups - small, medium, large, niche and sports car. More than one car is planned for most of these platforms.

The Waja's medium platform will also produce a people-mover, soft-roader four-wheel drive and the hatchback Persona replacement due for 2003.

A light commercial vehicle range including a ute and van could appear as soon as 2002 while a sports car shared with subsidiary Lotus has been confirmed for around 2005. A luxury V8 sedan is being considered.

An all-new Satria small car should appear in 2003, powered by a new generation of modular "Campro" engines developed with Lotus.

Initially available as a 70kW 1.3-litre and 90kW 1.6-litre, the Campro engines can be turbocharged and supercharged.

"We are going to try and introduce a new model every year," the Proton spokesman said.

But Proton has set a manufacturing cap of 300,000 per annum for its two plants at Shah Alam, near Kuala Lumpur, relying on its ability to produce small product runs profitably. Any growth beyond that would occur under contract in growth hot spots like China and India.

The spokesman confirmed Proton would work with DaimlerChrysler to develop the 1.1-litre Mitsubishi Town Box for use in Asian markets.

On the prowl for partners

THE drive by Proton to enlist as many useful technical partners as possible could stretch as far as Mitsubishi in Adelaide.

It is a logical connection considering Mitsubishi Corporation and Mitsubishi Motors Corporation each own 8 per cent of Proton's shareholding.

Proton's purchasing chief was in Adelaide last Wednesday viewing the MMAL's engine plant and discussing the possibility of sharing common vendors to cut costs on components.

A spokesman said Proton was looking to cut costs on cylinder head componentry for the new Campro engine, which could also be applicable for the Mitsubishi V6.

The visit was described as preliminary. Proton has been working with Australian suppliers since 1997.

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